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Op-ed on rolling blackouts: It's economics, not politics, sustaining generation during polar vortices and such – Power Engineering Magazine

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Photo of Martha’s Task offices, Bartlesville, OK, courtesy of Laura Summers

By Rod Walton, content director for Power Engineering and POWERGEN+

Hello PE readers, I typically take my stories posted here and then share them via social media. This time I’m doing it backwards.

I wrote this up for my personal Facebook after seeing so many posts blaming this or that generation resource for the rolling blackouts hitting the U.S. south and midwest. As you know, system operations like MISO, SPP and ERCOT are cutting power for hours at a time so it can match demand to supply during this incredible cold streak.

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It was written to share with friends who are not experts in the industry, but then neither am I compared to you, the industry professional. It may be oversimplified, but hopefully it contains clarity and truth. Here is my FB commentary:

Parks and Recreation.

“I’ve seen a few of my Facebook friends blame clean energy resources such as frozen wind turbines in Texas as cause for the rolling power outages. As a guy who has covered energy for 13 years, I can tell you that is not the real problem.

“The real issue is economics and supply and demand balances. Electricity cannot be stored or saved in a tank on any utility-scale level right now, so it flows and flows until it is consumed or grounded. Utilities must plan based on long-developed and accurate forecasts to balance load and demand. They don’t have capacity to keep gas in the tank, so to speak.

“Power plants are giant things with millions of parts which must move in tandem. Few of them can just fire up and down at will, so they operate at a certain percentage capacity for a period of time, then ratcheted up or down as need be. Those moves take time.Right now we have households hoarding as much heat as they can, and furnaces or heating elements are working overtime. This pulls from the grid, which in turns is powered by the generators at the plant.

“Those supply scenarios don’t turn on a dime. Utilities must plan ahead and spend millions in capital to meet the demand they forecast way out ahead. Why does a grocery store run out of bread and toilet paper? Because they plan their inventories way out in front, then a virus or an election or just some rumor about Revelations unfolding happens, and fearful residents buy up and hoard. Thus, the shortages. And this cold streak is an unprecedented event, so it puts an unforeseen strain on the grid. It is not the utility’s fault, nor any particular power resource such as coal, nuclear, gas, wind or solar. It’s just economics, plus human behavior.

“We need it all — fossil, nuclear and other zero-carbon resources. Carbon emissions and climate impact are real. Balance is key. Politics are not.”

(Rod Walton is content director for Power Engineering, POWERGEN International and the virtual POWERGEN+ series, which resumes Wednesday and Thursday at www.powergenplus.com. He is a 13-year veteran covering energy both as a newspaper reporter, business editor and events content director. Walton can be reached at 918-831-9177 and rod.walton@clarionevents.com).

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Europe’s Vaccine Struggle Will Change Its Politics – Forbes

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In my Christmas missive (link below) I sketched out a number of ‘surprise’ events that might occur in 2021, one of which was that

As part of its policy of ‘national strategic autonomy’ France opts to favour two French made vaccines for its citizens, but adverse reactions lead to a health and political crisis. Emmanuel Macron’s standing drops in the opinion polls, and the French establishment search for a centre right candidate for 2022’.

Though I wrote the note under the jovial banner ‘Drinking with Dickens’, I have to adhere to the first rule of forecasting which is to loudly take credit for any prediction that is mildly correct.

France under pressure

France, like much of the EU, is struggling to distribute COVID vaccines and shows little sign of lifting lockdown restrictions. To be fair, much of the blame for the slow rollout of vaccines rests with the odd modus operandi of Ursula von der Leyen’s cabinet.

The French situation is however compounded by Emmanuel Macron’s attack on the Astrazeneca/Oxford vaccine, 1 million vials of which lie unused in France, and by the failure so far of French scientists and pharmaceutical companies to speedily come up with a French ‘cure’ like that of fusty old Oxford (by the way Oxford has 72 ‘affiliated’ Nobel Prizes to 70 for France).

In the end it looks like Europe’s quest for ‘strategic autonomy’ (a French concept) and its admirable desire to implement a European solution to the vaccine problem, that got in the way. This unity is now crumbling – small, states Austria and Finland want to join forces with Israel, and Italy has intervened to stop the export of vaccines to Australia. As with the initial months of the COVID crisis, countries are beginning to fail the ‘solidarity’ text, which is not a great sign for the international order.

COVID trials

All of this begs at least two questions – do we yet have any sense as to what ‘type’ of country has managed to best deal with the COVID crisis, and second what the political implications and fallout of COVID (especially for Emmanuel Macron) are.

First, at the beginning of the crisis it seemed that countries that had experienced a pandemic in the recent past (Asia), and those with robust social democracies (small, advanced economies and Germany) dealt best with the fallout from the coronavirus, whilst the Anglo-Saxon countries (and diverse others) did less well. The UK and the US, together with Israel and the UAE of course, have now done much better with vaccination programs.

This disparity in performance, with countries like India confusing the picture even more, will try policy students for some time. One of the better explanations I have heard is from David Skilling who makes the distinction between liberal market economies (LMEs) and coordinated market economies (CMEs). LMEs use decentralised, competitive and flexible market mechanisms; CMEs rely more on established informal, relational arrangements between a range of stakeholders. In that context, the liberal market economies were quicker to organise supplies of vaccines and to distribute them.

We could spend a great deal of time debating which model is better – but it is a redundant conversation because changing a country from an LME to an CME, takes a great deal of time, and to quote the Skilling paper the race against COVID is a marathon, not a sprint’

What is more pertinent is how countries are set up for the next challenges – the potential for political unrest amidst enduring lockdowns (uncharacteristically Ireland witnessed a small but violent ‘anti-lockdown’ protest last week), the possibility of a large number of broken small businesses, the need to rethink how healthcare services can be made flexible, more focused on mental health and better funded on a permanent basis, and how the ‘scramble’ I referred to last week where numerous countries are chasing strategic assets, will distort supply chains and inevitably lead to new disputes.

Le Pen a risk

Given that task list, who would be a politician? Back to my speculative comment on Macron. First, I find that commentators outside France regularly overestimate the chances that he might be de-throned, and that Marine Le Pen might take his place. In my view Macron’s greatest failing during the COVID crisis (and most leaders have been tripped up by it) is his failure to be ‘close’ to the French people during the crisis to the extent that his ‘Jupiterean’ stance may become a liability.

To that end, if he is displaced (I don’t think so) it will not be someone from the right (General de Villiers, Philippe Juvin or Le Pen) but rather a centrist who is more avuncular (Edouard Philippe or Michel Barnier). On the left, my bet is that their leading candidate will be Annie Hidalgo as a modernising/eco/egalitarian candidate. There is still lots of time to go till the next French election, but in the light of the post-Merkel world, it will matter hugely for Europe.

Democracy under threat

On a broader landscape, by the time we get to mid 2022, the political topics that preoccupy us will be changing. While tackling inequality (especially in the US) will be prominent, politicians and societies will be dealing with an environment that is ‘the opposite of confinement’ in the sense of people’s desire to socialise and travel, the potential headwinds of higher interest rates and higher prices, and ongoing challenges to the democratic model (Freedom House’s latest report highlights just how vulnerable democracy is).

On that note, my credit goes to the French judiciary who have now tried and passed sentence on two of the previous three presidents, and in doing so uphold the credibility of the republic. Other countries might examine this example when it comes to the conduct of their (former) presidents and prime ministers.

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COMMENTARY: Gas-price politics, from British Columbia and beyond – Globalnews.ca

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If you’re fed up with high Canadian gas prices, you can at least be grateful that you don’t live in British Columbia.

Unless you do live in B.C. In that case, then go ahead and be mad as hell.

British Columbians are once again experiencing particular pain at the pumps as rising oil prices drive up the cost of gasoline.

It’s an extra-nasty case of gas-fuelled road rage in B.C., home to North America’s highest gasoline taxes.

Read more:
Is Canada’s carbon tax working? Experts, advocacy groups weigh in

How does the taxman sock it to B.C. drivers? Let us count the ways.

There’s the B.C. carbon tax, once fiercely opposed by NDP Premier John Horgan.

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When he was on the opposition benches, Horgan used to rail against the burden of the provincial carbon tax on B.C. families. Now the tax has risen steadily on his watch, with further increases set to kick in.

There’s also the B.C. Motor Fuel Tax. And the B.C. Transportation Financing Authority fuel tax. And Metro Vancouver’s TransLink fuel tax.

Ottawa takes a cut, of course, courtesy of the federal fuel excise tax.

Don’t forget the sour cherry on top: the federal GST, charged on the entire gas purchase, including all the other taxes.

Add it all up and Metro Vancouver drivers are getting hosed at the gas pump, creating a recurring political problem for Horgan and his B.C. government.

Read more:
U.S. deep freeze boosts Canadian oil and gas producer profits and prospects

Now that he’s a convert to the carbon tax, you might think Horgan would be pleased that high gas prices would discourage the use of polluting vehicles.

But Horgan has walked a political tight rope, jacking up the punitive carbon tax while griping about high gas prices at the same time.

His theme: Don’t blame me, blame greedy oil companies.

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“This is not a tax question, it’s a gouging question,” he said. “This is not about taxation.”

To drive the point home, the Horgan government recently passed a law forcing oil companies to reveal secret price-setting data.

Stopping short of government regulation to cap B.C. gas prices, the Horgan government instead said it would shame the oil companies into lowering prices themselves.

But the oil companies are fighting the forced disclosure of their corporate secrets. Now the dispute is snaking its way through the courts, while British Columbians are left paying sky-high gas prices.

Gas-price analyst Dan McTeague said B.C.’s strict low-carbon fuel standard — mandating cleaner-burning gas — also drives up B.C. fuel prices.

“All told, adding up all the government regulations and taxes, you’re looking at about 62 to 63 cents a litre in B.C.,” he said.

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McTeague has had a fascinating career as a one-time MP who transformed into a fierce critic of Prime Minister Justin Trudeau and his Liberal government’s energy policies.

“I’m a former Liberal MP, with the emphasis on ‘former,’” he understated, revealing that the federal Conservatives unsuccessfully courted him to run in the last election.

Read more:
Price of gas jumps again in B.C.’s Southern Interior (Feb. 20)

Now, McTeague is closely watching the fortunes of the Conservatives under new party leader Erin O’Toole.

O’Toole is under pressure to steer his party toward the middle of the political spectrum by adopting more environmentally friendly energy policies.

That includes the astonishing possibility that O’Toole might endorse a federal carbon tax, after years of slamming Trudeau’s federal tax.

If O’Toole does back a national carbon tax — especially with gas prices already spiking — McTeague thinks it would be a political disaster for the Conservatives.

“Trying to mimic the federal Liberals in the next election will get him zero votes — it will cost him votes instead,” McTeague said.

“I think it would be a fatal mistake for Mr. O’Toole. If he does that (promise a federal carbon tax), his time as leader of that party would be nasty, brutish and, of course, short.”

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Mike Smyth is host of ‘The Mike Smyth Show’ on Global News Radio 980 CKNW in Vancouver and a commentator for Global News. You can reach him at mike@cknw.com and follow him on Twitter at @MikeSmythNews​.

© 2021 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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On a frozen Minnesota lake, political antagonisms melt away – CNN

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In my years wandering the upper heartland, I’ve found that when you want to hear what people think, there are few more target-rich environments than an ice-fishing lake. Ninety-five percent of the sport involves sitting, drinking and talking. On a good day, you catch more new friends than fish.
Residents head out for some ice-fishing and conviviality.
But these have not been good days. In the 30 years since I covered sturgeon spearing for a tiny TV station in Minnesota, the United States has become is a lot less united. Covering the presidential election and inauguration in neighboring Wisconsin included more ply-wooded windows, body armor and “no comments” than I ever thought possible in my home state.
Walking out on Lake Minnetonka, I was worried. But it wasn’t 25 paces before a friendly couple walking huge dogs walked over and melted the worry with Midwestern warmth.
Kevin and Leah Beamish want people to get along, and sometimes that may mean avoiding talking about politics.Kevin and Leah Beamish want people to get along, and sometimes that may mean avoiding talking about politics.
“Everybody should be loving each other,” Leah Beamish told me as she played tug-o-war with Huxley. “There doesn’t need to be this …” she shook her head at the ice. “So divided. So divided.”
But as I walked from hole to hole, Northern pike to bluegill, Democrat to Republican, they all seemed united against disunity. “There’s no common ground anymore,” Tim Delaney said. “And everyone’s so angry about it. I think we’re just tired.”

‘People are a lot more optimistic’

Minnesota is understandably tense these days. Up north, they are bracing for a Standing Rock-sized standoff over the controversial Enbridge Line 3 oil pipeline. Down in the Twin Cities, concertina wire winds around civic buildings as they brace for the start of the George Floyd murder trial. And in every town in between, the Covid-19 pandemic is met with varying degrees of fear, loathing and pent-up frustration.
In this blue suburb of Minneapolis however, where families perched on buckets fish in front of the frozen front yards of million-dollar homes, there is some cautious relief. “I’m really happy with our new President,” said Cindy Garin, a 63-year-old health care worker, said as she described her first vaccination and plans for a Florida escape. “I think things are getting better … and I think people are a lot more optimistic.”
Ben Calvert sees Democrats delaying fulfilling their promises.Ben Calvert sees Democrats delaying fulfilling their promises.
But Ben Calvert, 27 and at college to become a wrestling coach, is fast losing faith with Democrats given that they are in charge in the White House, the Senate and the House. “A lot of my friends are really frustrated because they were like, ‘We’ve got to elect these two senators in Georgia! We’ve got to get Joe Biden in office and then everything’s going to be better! It’s not a $1,400 dollar check, it’s $2,000 checks,'” Ben said, making gloved air quotes.
“But now, they’re putting that stimulus check and minimum wage hike on the back burner while they’re dropping bombs in Syria. And those bombs are kind of expensive for a dude who owes me $2,000.”

Calmer criticism

Ben’s father, Valdo, has more patience for the new President but told me, “I don’t see it smooth sailing for Biden. I see it always going to be about obstructionism, but at least it’s more calm.” And like so many others on the lake frustrated by American disunity, the retired Forest Service emergency manager wonders how to unite with true believers of conspiracy theories like QAnon.
Valdo and Ben Calvert say there are some people they can't be with any more, even with the bonhomie on the lake.Valdo and Ben Calvert say there are some people they can't be with any more, even with the bonhomie on the lake.
His son nods in agreement. “I grew up wrestling and playing sports. You get liberal people, you get conservative people, but we all got along. Now those guys aren’t my friends anymore because I know what they really think,” Ben told me. “Maybe it’s not who they are in their heart, but can you hang out with someone who’s like, ‘I think it would be a good thing to assassinate the sitting [Speaker of the House.]'”
But just a short, fragrant stroll away, barbecue smoke master Tim Delaney described his desire to replace Nancy Pelosi with Donald Trump.
Tim Delaney wants Trump back in power, even if he hesitates to say so among his friends of a different political persuasion.Tim Delaney wants Trump back in power, even if he hesitates to say so among his friends of a different political persuasion.
“What if Trump ran for Congress, right?” Tim said, waving a silver tallboy. “And then we took the House and we took the Senate and then he could impeach the President and Vice President. He would be president for the next two years plus then he would be reelected for another four. Good idea?”

Laughter overcomes politics

None of his friends thought it was a good idea. As far as I could tell, they were all Democrats who obviously believed in the peacekeeping mantra repeated to me by Leah’s husband Kevin Beamish as we walked on to the lake. “It’s the old story,” he smiled. “Don’t talk politics or religion with friends and family.”
I don’t have that luxury, and the energy shifted noticeably when I strolled over with camera and asked, “How’s everybody feeling after the election?”
His friends may not agree with the politics of Tim Delaney, left, but they're still happy to break bread with him.His friends may not agree with the politics of Tim Delaney, left, but they're still happy to break bread with him.
“We don’t go there,” Tim said before going there. And while he joked that his burst of MAGA honesty might spoil the barbecue brotherhood, the laughs proved the opposite.
I walked out onto Lake Minnetonka braced for icy suspicion and dread, but I walked off with a stomach full of barbecue and hope. I’ll take it.
CORRECTION: An earlier version of this story misstated the first name of Leah Beamish’s husband. His name is Kevin.

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